"I Had No Place to Go" – How Gay Teen Dee Balliet Got off the Streets and Into School

July 2, 2015|Daryl "Dee" Balliet
Daryl “Dee” Balliet was named as one of the 40 of the Forty, an Arcus-supported program of the True Colors Fund that provides opportunities for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning youth who have experienced homelessness or housing instability to speak for themselves. Up to 40 percent of homeless young people in the United States are LGBT.

Balliet lives in Columbus, Ohio, where he works as a cultural-competency and workforce-development trainer for health professionals. He graduated most recently from Colorado Technical University and holds bachelor’s degrees in health care administration and nursing, an associate degree in business administration, and certification as a medical assistant. Here is Balliet’s story in his own words.

I experienced housing instability when I was about 16 years old after coming out to my mom and my stepdad. There were times I had places to go but they weren’t home. And there were periods when I was homeless, where I had absolutely no place to go.

I was a sophomore in high school, and I would hang out where teenagers were known to be gay or identify as gay or lesbian or bisexual or trans. I wasn’t comfortable with questions from my mom, like, “You know you’re hanging out with him and he’s gay so, how are you guys friends?” Eventually it got to the point where I said, “These are my friends; they’ve accepted me into the gay community. These are my gay friends. I’m gay.” It just came out all at once.

It was overwhelming for my mom to take it all in. I remember that day she said something like, “Well you’re not gay, because that’s impossible. That can’t be you. That’s not my son.” And I remember saying, “Well I am. What should I do about it?” And she really didn’t have a response besides, “Well you know if this is the lifestyle that you’re going to live, it’s best that you have somewhere else to live.” And that was the end of conversation.

It felt like she had given up on me. And that was hurtful to accept, so it wasn’t easy for me to even give a phone call back to just say hey, can we talk about this, or what am I supposed to do? My dad was a physician working in Africa, so it wasn’t easy to reach him to tell him that I was gay. He’s from Colombia so a lot of his family’s in South America. It’s not an easy phone call to say, “Hey, I need help.”

I came out to my Dad a year later, and I wish I had done it sooner, because the reaction that I got was nothing but caring and accepting. When I explained to him that I had been homeless for the last year, I think he was more upset with the fact that I didn’t reach out, as opposed to me telling him that I was gay.

For a while I was on my own in the community where I lived, in Columbus, Ohio. Even though it’s the state capital, there weren’t many resources for a gay male, a homeless gay male even more so, especially a minor. For about a year and a half, I was here and there and everywhere in between: staying at friends’ houses or with family members who at the time hadn’t got the news that I was gay.

There were plenty of times I slept in my car, and when I didn’t have a car I remember sleeping in a park for about two days—Schiller Park, on the south side of Columbus. On those two or three nights, I kind of felt as though there was no brighter day; that nothing good was going to come out of this. I remember feeling a huge sense of hopelessness, as though my life wasn’t worth living anymore, because I had no one.

But a week later, a good friend of mine reached out to me. He suspected that something was going on and said, “Hey, my roommate just moved out, and I’d really appreciate if you came and lived with me.” I stayed with him for about a month and saved up enough money to get my first apartment, on the east side of Columbus, and it was probably about four months before my 18th birthday.

The biggest part was feeling as though there was no one really to turn to who understood my situation and why I was homeless. I had a sense that maybe if I’d never said anything about being gay, perhaps I’d still have a place to stay. But maybe that place wasn’t as suitable for me as even being homeless—suppressing who I actually was.

Until my dad passed away in 2011 we had a great relationship. He empowered me to continue with my education. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be as strong as I am right now. I graduated early from high school and started college a year early, when I was 17. I worked my way through college, and that led me out of homelessness.

Now, my relationship with my mom is very good.

It was a pretty humbling experience to be nominated for the 40 of the Forty, but I took a little bit of pride. My story mattered; someone actually cared enough to say that a young guy has faced housing instability and homelessness and he’s bounced back from it.

After the 40 of the Forty was published on social media, I could share this with friends, co-workers, people who may not even know that I was ever homeless. The feedback I got back from it was more rewarding than any certificate, ceremony, or public honoring that I could have received. Then, a recruiter called and said, “We’re looking for nurse to staff our HIV clinic.” She had seen my resume online and then saw a post about the 40 of the Forty and read the story. Pretty amazing turn of events.

Today, I’m hopeful that programs geared toward LGBT youth will focus more on homelessness. Combatting homelessness also combats a lot of other problems that we’re dealing with for LGBT youth: promiscuity, HIV, STDs, substance abuse. Not many think about how homelessness actually leads to these things.

My hope is that awareness is raised to the point where something is being done about homelessness for LGBT youth. A lot of programs for homeless youth are making good progress, but it’s also necessary for youth to have a home, a safe place to be, or a network to reach out to, so that they’re not living in the streets.